“I Became Trapped In My Own Skin”
Right now, British retailer, Missguided are doing something brands should have done years ago. They are championing diversity. Just recently, they released their latest collection entitled #InYourOwnSkin which featured six beautiful women all with various skin conditions, including psoriasis, albinism, birthmarks and scars. This isn’t the first time the brand have used their forte to inspire. Just six months ago they launched a similar campaign called #KeepOnBeingYou which aimed to celebrate flaws and highlight those things that make so many women in this world, uniquely different.
These are the types of campaigns I wish I’d seen growing up. Being an 80’s child and a fully-fledged millennial, meant that I wasn’t raised around social media and so my learnings of what fell under the definition of beauty, was completely different. Unlike today, body positive campaigns that promote ‘loving the skin we’re in’ and celebrating those things such as cellulite, scarring and blemishes that are common in many women, were well hidden in the media when I was growing up. Instead, magazines such as Just Seventeen and Mizz exposed its readers to girls that had flawless skin, bouncy brown hair and mostly white skin. Any sign of a blemish, scar or skin condition was carefully masked with the help of Photoshop.
Growing up, I was a typical ‘girls girl. I loved investing time and money into fashion and was always hunting down the latest beauty products. I’d flick through magazines seeking out the latest trends, yet was completely oblivious to how much the models were influencing my ideas on the definition of beauty. To me, they defined perfection, which meant girls like myself quickly felt excluded from a category where a certain type of ‘beauty’ lay.
For women like myself, brands using models that promote diversity should have happened a lot sooner. It’s at this point, I can share with you my own battles with a skin condition that once severely affected how I felt about myself on the outside. Since the age of two, I have been living with Vitiligo, a skin condition where white patches form on the skin due to a lack of melanin, a pigment in the skin. It started as a small, white milky patch on the back of my hand no bigger than a five pence piece and being mixed race, meant it was a stark contrast against my natural skin colour. Initially, my parents weren’t too alarmed. It didn’t hurt and wasn’t inflamed and assumed it might amount to nothing more than a birthmark.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be the case and over the course of 3 years, more patches started to develop, eventually covering my arms, legs and worst of all my face. My once caramel coloured skin was now 70% white. Being so young, I didn’t truly realise the extent of how much my skin had changed and so I was mentally unaffected by its appearance during my childhood years. My parents refused to keep me covered and would send me to school in dresses and skirts, with my bare legs on show. They were determined that I wouldn’t grow up thinking I had something to hide.
Things took a turn for the worst when I entered my teenage years. A difficult time as it was, with exam pressures, physical bodily changes and feeling as though it was me against the world, trying to manage an unpredictable skin condition became incredibly hard. I started to feel extremely self-conscious and lived in fear of friends and family seeing the severity of my Vitiligo under my clothes. My parent’s attempt in teaching me to love my skin had reversed and I quickly retreated and started covering up. I shielded my face behind makeup (which was often two shades too light because I had no clue about colour matching!) and wore clothes that covered me from head to toe. I avoided swimming lessons at school and deliberately focused on my education and friends, putting a firm stop to the idea of having a childhood sweetheart.
Looking back at my school years, and even my early 20’s, makes me realise just how much I had become trapped in my own skin. I stopped myself from doing things I watched others do. I found beach holidays with friend’s difficult and felt anxious just thinking about the potential of a pool party. I couldn’t express myself through fashion and whenever I went shopping with friends, I would skip the rails where the skirts, shorts and summer dresses were hanging. It left me very little choice after eliminating what I couldn’t wear! I hated that I couldn’t just be myself and questioned why I felt so negatively about how I looked.
It’s hard to imagine a world without social media; yet, it didn’t exist when I was growing up. Women weren’t posting images promoting self-love and bodily appreciation, nor were there any platforms where women could empower each other through being body confident rather than ashamed. Now, with social media being a prevalent part of our lives, the growing community of body positive activists and movements promoting ‘self-appreciation, women are able to enforce the importance of self-expression. Popular trending hashtags such as #scarsarebeautiful, #scarsmarkmystrength and #scarsmakeyoustronger, firmly advocate social change and are vital to supporting the idea that our bodies do not define who we are.
Today, I have a completely different relationship with my body. Whilst my refusal to wear a swimsuit on holiday and not being confident enough to leave the house without a layer of foundation on my face, still feel like fresh memories, I love that I’ve finally found that place that has given me freedom. The freedom to appreciate and love who I am. I no longer fear the judgements of others and have finally compiled my list of favourite holiday destinations, all of which a beach features at the top of the list!
Giving myself the ‘choice’ to wear makeup, or cover my skin, feels so much more empowering than feeling as though it’s a necessity. Now I wear makeup for me and not because I question what others might think. My journey towards self-acceptance took time. It was never supposed to happen overnight and the fact it’s been a gradual process has meant I’ve been able to fully appreciate the new pathway life has taken me on. I know there are women out there still finding their feet. Battling with the thoughts I once had when I didn’t think being different meant being beautiful. That’s why I think it’s important we talk about those ways we can boost our self-confidence during the moments when we might not feel like bearing our skin. So, with that in mind, here are my most effective ways of working a little magic when you want to disguise those scars….
One of the most effective ways of disguising scars or blemishes is with camouflage makeup. In fact, it was one of the first things suggested to me by my Dermatologist when I was trying to find a way of covering the patches on my face, all those years ago.
I remember the days when I’d stand looking at the beauty counter in Boots and only see 3 shades of makeup; light, lighter and even lighter! (slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean!). The point I am making here is, there were times when shades were extremely limited. Thankfully, since then brands have evolved significantly and finally recognise there are varying skin tones and that all women need to be catered for. Brands such as Vichy and Keromask offer shades for all skin types, that are affordable, long lasting and have been recommended by highly trained Dermatology Practitioners. Some brands offer colour consultations, so if you’re unsure of which colour would suit you, this is a great way to find your perfect or nearest match.
Fake tan became my absolute saviour during my early twenties and now with the extensive range available from beauty retailers, there is a colour or shade to suit every skin tone. Thank goodness! For me, fake tan is the perfect way to even out my skin tone in an instant and with very little fuss. I always apply the night before and love waking up to sun-kissed legs that radiate a healthy glow and allow me to wear my favorite denim shorts!
My personal preference is a gradual tanner as it allows you to build up a colour and very rarely appears streaky (always exfoliate beforehand). I always opt for Dove DermaSpa Summer Revived in medium or Garnier Summerbody Moisturising Lotion. I love that they smell great, make my skin feel smooth with the added moisturising qualities and most importantly, are budget friendly. One of my favourite premium brands is St Tropez Self Tan Classic as only one application is often needed for a deeper colour and can often last up to one week without fading.
For years, nude tights were often seen as a bit old foggyish! Now they are like foundation for the legs because they can subtly even out your skin tone, are very versatile and do the trick of disguising skin imperfections you might not feel like showing. I discovered the wonders of nude tights during my early twenties, although I always struggled to find the right shade because once again, ranges were often very limited. Now, finding my perfect match is a lot simpler because a number of brands offer shades for women of all complexions. Carnivalista, who specialise in tights and stockings predominantly for the carnival industry, have a varying range of high-quality products that compliment any skin tone.
What I also love about nude tights, is the varying denier. If you are looking for a subtle, but sexy look for an evening out I tend to go for a fabric thickness of 10 denier which is relatveily sheer and light, however, for the slightly chillier nights I’d go for something between 15 and 20 denier which still gives essential coverage but keeps the chill at a further distance! Other brands that also offer extended ranges are Nubian Skin, Bianca Miller London and Nunude which finally allows every woman the ability to find their perfect nude...
Whether you have cellulite, a birthmark, acne scarring or a scar as a result of a childhood fall, ultimately these are the marks that represent us. Aside from telling a story, they can be a reminder of survival and a symbol of hope, strength and courage.
It took me years to find that place of comfort within myself. It took some real soul searching! I remember vivdly when friends, family and even colleagues used to say to me they never realised I had Vitiligo. I’d look at them perplexed because in my mind, my white patches were literally screaming at them, they were that obvious! I now know, the reason people couldn’t really see them was because they could see me, a person with a personality, attractive qualities and characteristics. They completely looked past my skin because it's not what makes me who I am.
On that note, I’ll leave you with this powerful thought to inspire. The most beautiful thing a woman can wear is confidence because that’s what shows you’re not afraid to be yourself….
Written by Natalie Ambersley